Five Trades Shaped the Indians for Years to Come
Last week, Matt Bretz took the time to outline, in painstaking detail, the five worst trades in the history of the Cleveland Indians. Well, not really in the entire history, more like the Jacobs/Progressive Field era. It was a tough task, but someone had to do it. Luckily for me, I got the better end of the deal.
Instead of wallowing in the torture of past miseries, I have the good fortune of counting down the five best trades since 1995. Much like Matt, this countdown won’t focus solely on trades that occurred at the wire of the trade deadline. Instead, these are all trades that went down in the period between June and July. In other words, these are trades that all had a significant impact on that current season.
But before we get started something has become blatantly obvious with the Indians from a historical perspective. That is, they have done a much better job trading proven assets for young prospects than they have trading prospects for proven talent. So without further ado, here are the five best trades in the history of the Cleveland Indians. Sure, there are exceptions, such as the deal that sent Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, but for the most part this trend has held true.
So without further ado, here are the top 5 trades in the recent history of the Cleveland Indians.
5. July 26, 2008: 3B Casey Blake is sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers for C Carlos Santana
Casey Blake was a fan favorite for much of his time with the Cleveland Indians. He was a classic over-achiever and the type of player the people of Cleveland grow to love. Unfortunately for Blake, that didn’t make him off-limits in a trade. Such was the case in July of 2008 when the Tribe sent him to the Dodgers for one of the top rated young prospects in the entire Dodger organization. At the time this seemed lopsided in favor of the Indians. In 2014, it seems like highway robbery.
Casey Blake put up solid numbers for the Dodgers, but not the type of numbers that warranted giving up on a top young prospect. Perhaps the Dodgers were concerned over questions surrounding Carlos Santana’s future position at the big league level. Was he a third baseman, a catcher, or a first baseman? They didn’t seem to know. In all honesty, it doesn’t appear the Indians know that answer to that question some six years later.
Carlos Santana has developed into a cornerstone of the Indians. As a heart of the order hitter and on base percentage machine (368 career OBP), Santana is a pivotal piece in the Indians hopes of contending for a title. Slow starts have raised questions about Santana’s value in recent years, but he always seems to find a way to get to 20+ homers and 80 RBI territory. His future seems a bit uncertain, as rumors of inclusion in a possible David Price trade have swirled, but by all accounts it appears Santana will be in Cleveland for the long haul.
4. July 7, 2008: SP C.C. Sabathia is sent to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for SP Zach Jackson, OF Matt LaPorta, Rob Bryson and a player to be named later. Cleveland Indians received Michael Brantley on October 3, 2008.
Up until last season, this trade looked like a disaster for the Indians. C.C. Sabathia was a Cy Young winning pitcher in the prime of his career. Unfortunately, his looming free agency and subsequent nine digit payday meant the Indians had to move him for the best possible package. Enter the Brewers and their package centered around one of the top power hitting prospects in all of baseball, Matt LaPorta.
We all know how this trade played out. Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson were inconsequential and LaPorta became the poster child for Quad-A player status, dominating pitchers at the Triple-A level and failing to make the necessary adjustments to a long, slow swing in the big leagues. Couple that with questionable moves to bring in veteran first baseman and outfielders to play ahead of LaPorta and ruin his confidence and this was a disaster.
Thank God for Michael Brantley. As the player to be named later in this deal, little was expected of Brantley. Many felt he would develop into a solid center fielder and decent lead-off hitter. What the Indians got, with a little time and patience, was a professional hitter that continues to improve on a yearly basis. So far in 2014, Brantley has made his first all-star team and is well on his way to establishing new career highs in every major offensive category. At this rate, the Indians may have inadvertently found their #3 hitter for the next 5 to 7 years.
3. July 26, 2006: 1B/DH Ben Broussard is sent to the Seattle Mariners for OF Shin-Soo Choo and a player to be named later (Shawn Nottingham)
This trade seemed like a big deal at the time, but not because the Indians were receiving Shin-Soo Choo. The real story was that the Indians had decided to give up on Ben Broussard. In four and a half seasons with the Indians, Broussard had established himself as a somewhat reliable middle of the order hitter. Yes, he had his struggles against left-handed pitching and he had probably reached his ceiling, but for a team that was looking to contend, this trade came as a bit of a shock. It’s hard to overlook a slash line of .268/.332/.468 with 69 homers and 260 runs batted in.
What we didn’t know at the time is that the Indians had swindled the Mariners out of a young, up and coming outfielder with an unparalleled ability to get on base. That of course was Shin-Soo Choo. In 45 games that season, Choo hit .295/.373/.473, He was a revelation and only got better, establishing himself first as a middle of the order power bat and later as one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball.
After seven years in Cleveland, Choo became the centerpiece of the trade that would net the Indians Trevor Bauer. Broussard on the other hand spent two lackluster years in Seattle before finishing his career by playing 26 games for the Rangers in 2008. Consider the return on investment of this trade to be exceptionally high.
2. June 30, 2006: 1B/DH Eduardo Perez is sent to the Seattle Mariners for SS Asdrubal Cabrera
One month prior to making the number
five three trade on this list, the Indians swindled the Mariners out of another key piece of their late 2000’s success. Looking to rid themselves of an aging player that wasn’t in their plans for the future, the Indians shipped the struggling Perez off to the Mariners, who were in desperate need of a bat. In return, they acquired a young Venezuelan shortstop. That shortstop was none other than Asdrubal Cabrera.
At the time this trade was inconsequential. The Indians had signed Perez hoping to catch lightning in a bottle. When it was apparent that A. That wasn’t going to happen and B. The Indians weren’t going to contend, they cashed in. A year later, the Indians would cash in their chips in an all out attempt to make a run at a title.
Cabrera was called up on August 8, 2007 to become the team’s full-time second baseman along side shortstop Jhonny Peralta. He didn’t disappoint. The young Cabrera, who was only 21 at the time and sported a pair of white puka beads around his neck, became a fan favorite on the Indians path to the World Series.
Unfortunately, they came up short and lost in game seven to the Red Sox in the ALCS. In the following seasons Cabrera struggled with both performance and injuries, bouncing back and forth between Triple A and the big league club. In 2011 and 2012 he displayed his full potential, making the all-star team in back to back seasons.
As of this writing, Cabrera is in the final year of his contract and could be a candidate to be traded prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, lest the Indians risk losing him for nothing via free agency this winter. Stay tuned.
1. June 27, 2002: SP Bartolo Colon and SP Tim Drew sent to the Montreal Expos in for 1B Lee Stevens, 2B Brandon Phillips, SP Cliff Lee and OF Grady Sizemore
There are lopsided trades and then there was this beast. Contending for a spot in the playoffs for the first time since the 1994 strike, the Expos were desperate to make move. Couple that with rumors of a possible relocation and Montreal’s desperation was cranked up to 11. As a result, the Indians received a mother load of prospects to go along with journeyman slugger Lee Stevens.
At the time, Indians fans hated this trade. Faced with their first real losing season since moving into Jacobs Field, Mark Shapiro made the difficult decision to rebuild. That meant trading away ace pitcher and fan favorite, Bartolo Colon. Fans were irate, unable to understand why the Indians would give up on a 29-year-old flame thrower in the prime of his career. Fast forward a few years and it all made sense.
Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips all became super-stars. Lee won a Cy Young award prior to being traded to the Phillies in 2009. He has since gone on to win a World Series and become one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. Sizemore reached superstar status, making multiple all-star game appearances, winning gold gloves, and becoming the face of the franchise before injuries derailed his career. Phillips’s brash personality proved to be incompatible with then manager Eric Wedge. He was ultimately shipped to the Reds for next to nothing even though Ramon Vazquez had an option left.
Despite the way the Cleveland career of all thee players ended, this still remains the most lucrative return of any trade in the history of the Cleveland Indians. No trade before or since has featured this amount of star power. If only they had gotten a bit luckier and actually managed to turn this deal into a championship.
And don’t forget about Colon. After his trade to the Expos, he would go on to pitch 10 more seasons and win a Cy Young award along the way. He’s still active, pitching in 2014 for the New York Mets in his age 40 season.